Anyone who has been a Christian for a while has most likely heard a sermon from the book of Jonah. The two events that most people remember about Jonah are the minor prophet’s disobedience and him being swallowed up by a big fish. Unfortunately, many preachers make the mistake of only focusing on these two details and miss out on an abundance of other important lessons that ought to be considered. The book of Jonah is more than just a story about a big fish, it is a book filled with a richness and a depth that showcases the splendor of God.
First, the big fish is not the main point of Jonah. Of course, in the minds of many, Jonah will always be synonymous with the big fish. However, Jonah being swallowed up by the fish was just one means that God was using to sanctify this rebellious prophet. The main theme seen throughout the entire book is God’s compassion. This is proven by God sparing the mariners, Jonah, and Nineveh in chapters one through three respectively, while also being patient with Jonah in chapter four. God’s grace is on full display throughout Jonah’s story.
Second, Jonah is more relatable than one might think. When some preachers talk about Jonah’s shortcomings, they only mention his disobedience when he runs away from God. The problem is that they are forgetting about some other major character flaws, such as Jonah’s self-righteousness and nationalism, which broadens his scope of relatability. These flaws come to light in chapter four, after God relented His judgment on Nineveh, Jonah became very angry with God. This anger came from the fact that Nineveh was a grave threat to Jonah’s homeland. Jonah getting angry with God for showing mercy on one of his home country’s enemies reveals his self-righteousness and nationalism. God included all of these details in regards to Jonah’s failures for a reason. By only choosing to mention Jonah’s disobedience and ignoring his other foibles, prevents one from identifying with the other facets of Jonah’s sinfulness.
Finally, Jonah does not have a fairytale ending. This is the other misconception regarding the book of Jonah. When most people think of the end of Jonah, they might remember Nineveh repenting through Jonah’s preaching. Although that is true, it is also incomplete. The Bible does say that Nineveh, “turned from their evil way” (Jon 3:10); however, there is no record of Nineveh actually covenanting with God. The last chapter of Jonah also has a counterintuitive ending. The book of Jonah essentially ends with God patiently asking Jonah a question that was meant to correct his sinful attitude; this is far from a fairytale ending.
As a result of many people missing the point of the big fish, only pointing out one of Jonah’s sins, or assuming Jonah’s story ends on a high note proves that Jonah is one of the most misunderstood books in the Bible. When churches only teach Jonah in the children’s ministry or only preach on Jonah’s rebellion, God’s people are missing out on other rich truths found throughout the entire book. The book of Jonah is not about a big fish; it is about the compassion of an almighty God.